Tagged: military benefits
The Budget Control Act of 2011 increased our nation’s debt limit and created what is known as the Budget Supercommittee. This bipartisan committee was commissioned with the purpose of finding a way to cut the budget by January 1st, 2013. If they did not, the Act implements a series of mandatory across the board cuts across multiple federal departments and programs. These cuts are known as sequestration and may go into effect as soon as January 2nd, 2013.
The Department of Defense is not immune from sequestration. Although President Obama has implemented his authority to exempt military personnel funds from sequestration (as granted by the Budget Control Act), that does not protect the entire department. Military personnel funds are defined as pay, benefit, and change of station travel funds. While this protects service members’ paychecks, it increases the amount of reductions in other Department of Defense programs from 8% (if personnel funds were included) to 12% (with the current exemption).
The House Armed Services Committee has met with both Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffery Zients, both of whom say cuts would be “devastating” to our nation’s armed forces. Carter also warns of the “creation of an unready, hollow force” should these cuts go into effect, bringing back memories of a post-Vietnam Era military.
What does this mean to every member of the armed forces? Cuts across the other 2,500 military departments, including:
- Military family social services
- Health care
- Equipment and
- Layoffs of civilian support staff (including but not limited to contractors)
Lack of training and equipment directly lead to a lack of readiness, placing our service members and our nation at risk. Morale is greatly undermined, and our service members (and nation) suffer even more.
There are approximate four months before sequestration goes into effect. Congress is out of session for most of two months (August and September). Then we have an election in November, with returning incumbents and lame ducks; if they can’t “get their act together” before the election, what makes us think that are they going to solve the problems between the time of the election and the inauguration of new members? Which, by the way, is interrupted by Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
This problem must be resolved now. Contact your Representatives and Senators and urge them not to let politics get in the way of national security. Hyperbole and over-exaggeration aside, this truly could be the issue of the decade, not just in terms of the Department of Defense but across almost all programs that receive federal funding across the country. Spending must be brought under control; let’s find an effective way to do so.
When the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney selected the Wisconsin Congressional representative to be his running mate, he sent a powerful message: Rather than select a ho-hum safe choice like Tim Pawlenty, Romney went with the leading voice for fiscal conservativism in Congress. Ryan, the head of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, is perhaps the most vocal proponent of entitlement reform and – to some extent – deficit reduction on the Hill.
He’s well known among budget and policy wonks – but the broader public probably got their first taste of him when he confronted President Obama in a “town hall” debate on the merits of the Democrats’ health reform bill last year.
Romney has never held office at the national level; his highest political office was Governor of Massachusetts. So Romney does not have a track record of military issues to look at, except as Commander in Chief of them Massachusetts National Guard.
Ryan is not a veteran. As a matter of fact, this year marks the first year since 1932 in which no one on either major party ticket had served in the U.S. armed services. On the other hand, Ryan has been in Congress for 14 years, and has voted on a number of important military appropriations and provisions, as well as use-of-force resolutions.
So what’s his record?
Well, he voted to authorize military action against Al Qaeda in 2001, as did almost everyone on both sides of the aisle that year.
He also voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq to support the UN Security Council Resolutions in 2003 – at that time tantamount to a vote to go to war against Iraq.
Ryan also voted in favor of banning the use of U.S. ground forces in Libya without first securing Congressional Approval.
Ryan opposed the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – preferring instead to prohibit gays and lesbians from serving openly in the Armed Forces.
Ryan also recently came out with a budget proposal for 2013 and a spending plan for the following ten years. According to his own analysts and the Congressional Budget Office, Ryan’s plan relies on reining in spending to balance the budget by 2040, and reduce the overall national debt from 68 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 10 percent of GDP by 2050.
His plan, say proponents, would do so while reducing tax rates. The Ryan plan would establish just two federal tax rates: 10 percent and 25 percent, while rolling back certain deductions.
Coming up with a plan, of course, is a lot different from selling it – and Ryan got precious few Congressional representatives to sign on to it – even from his own party.
As for military spending, Ryan’s plan would hold the Pentagon budget to match inflation over the next ten years. Not quite what the Pentagon might ask for – it doesn’t have room for a lot of mission creep – but it’s still a lot more money than what many of the President’s supporters suggest.
While the military budget essentially marks time under Ryan’s proposal, all federal domestic discretionary spending would be slashed by 13 percent.
That said, Ryan has not always been a free-spender when it comes to the military and veterans. He has on at least one occasion voted for a proposal to tighten the standards required to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Specifically, his committee floated a proposal to cut spending on providing VA care to veterans who do not have a service-related disability and whose incomes do not make them poor. Specifically, Ryan’s floated plan would cut off Category 8 veterans – and possibly Category 7 veterans as well – from receiving care from the VA.
If this plan were adopted, it would represent a return to the status quo ante – Veterans in Categories 7 and 8 were generally not eligible for care, either, until 1996, when a Republican Congress passed the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Act of 1996, expanding their eligibility and directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand their number of clinics and hospitals to accommodate their new patients.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 90 percent of Category 7 and 8 veterans have health insurance available from other sources, including employer plans and Medicare.
Ryan opposed “sequestration’s” more draconian cuts to the Pentagon, describing the Sequester as a “meat-axe” approach.
He voted against slashing funding for the Osprey.
Ryan also voted against a proposal for a mandatory period of rest and recuperation between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. President Bush also opposed the measure at the time. The bill exempted special operations troops and still allowed the President and Secretary of Defense to waive the requirement in response to unforeseen circumstances.
Ryan voted against a 2012 proposal to increase combat pay from $225 per month to $350.
So what do you think of the Romney/Ryan ticket? How does it compare to Obama/Biden? Do you know who you’ll be voting for this November based on what you know so far? Let us know in the comments!
Life is full of change. If you’ve been serving your country in the armed forces, you know that better than anyone.
First of all, thank you. Thank you for what you’ve done, and for what you’re about to do. Not only have you served your country in your military role, you’re bringing a higher level of skills and life experience to the job marketplace.
Deciding to leave the military is a big step in and of itself. So you’ve determined civilian life is where you want to go. Now what? Here are a few tips to help you sail smoothly into the next part of your journey:
1) Learn how to translate your military skills into civilian-speak. You worked hard to gain the expertise you have. Don’t let your abilities get lost in a cloud of miscommunication. Make sure your experience comes through great article loud and clear on your resume and in interviews.
2) Know how to access your retired/veterans military benefits. You worked hard to earn them, don’t lose them.From Thrift Savings Plans to commissary privileges to medical insurance coverage and recreation opportunities, your service affords you a wide variety of benefits even as you move on to a new chapter of your life. Make sure you have copies of your policy documentation, important phone numbers and contact information in a secure place.
3) Explore your options. Not sure about diving into a career right away? Or maybe you’re ready to pursue a lifelong dream in a different field? Perhaps a certification program will help you gain entrance to an industry you’re curious about, but tuition expenses are, well, less than appealing. As a veteran, your military experience may count toward education at many military-friendly colleges. This gets you closer to the degree you want without the cost.
If this all sounds overwhelming to you, you’re not alone. It sounds overwhelming to most people. But with a little planning, a lot of deep breathing and plenty of discussion boards to surf, a brand new chapter in your story is right around the corner.
Tell us how you’re navigating your transition from the service to civilian life? What are your plans? Or if you’ve already made the transition, what advice do you have for others?
While financial institutions that cater to service members, veterans and their families aren’t always angels, both USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union have historically done a good job at coming through with some extra services when military families are most in need.
Today, a large number of military families are being affected by the terrible fires in Waldo Canyon and the outskirts of Colorado Springs – home to thousands of families that support Fort Collins and the Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment as well as the Air Force Academy (photo credit: Kerry Webster).
Less than a week before, thousands of military families near CENTCOM and Joint Special Operations Command and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Eglin Air Force Base, Pensacola Naval Air Station, Camp Blanding and Jacksonville were struck by severe flooding, courtesy of Tropical Storm Debby, which ravaged northern Florida and the Panhandle area earlier this June.
Insurance and Claims Response Centers
USAA is a major player in the home insurance market for military families. As of this writing, the Colorado Springs wildfire has destroyed more than 300 homes, with many more at risk. The company has established a number of on-site response teams. If you have experienced a loss, and need to speak with a USAA representative to file a claim, visit this website for a listing Colorado Springs response team locations around the community.
Navy Federal Credit Union Disaster Relief Assistance
Meanwhile, Navy Federal Credit Union has established a formal program to help their members affected by disasters to get back on their feet. If you are located within a federally-declared disaster area, you may be eligible for the Navy Federal Credit Union’s program.
Specifically, NFCU is offering qualifying members up to $15,000 in emergency loans. The interest rate on these loans is 6 percent, with payments deferrable for up to 90 days (though interest will still accrue). The loans can be repaid over 60 months, or five years. This may help homeowners and business owners affected by the disasters to get back on their feet, following the loss of a home, vehicle, job or — in the very worst cases — a loved one, as a result of the disaster.
Additionally, if you are experiencing a financial hardship as a result of a disaster, NFCU is also giving out increases in credit card limits and payment deferrals in certain circumstances. You may have to provide some documentation, and you generally must provide some documentation verifying your hardship.
You must also apply for the loan within 45 days of the day on which the Federal Emergency Management declared your home a disaster area. Generally you can qualify for the loan if you live in a federally-declared disaster area, or if you own property in one. You don’t, however, necessarily be an existing Navy Federal Credit Union member. You can get the loan if you meet the eligibility requirements set forth above. However, you must set up a direct debit account with Navy Federal Credit Union, or your rate will increase to the regular personal credit interest rate.
For immediate assistance or to apply for an Emergency Relief Loan, call the Navy Federal Credit Union at 1-888-842-6328.
A number of charities also provide emergency relief to military families undergoing financial hardship – often providing loans on little more than the say-so of the company commander.
Examples include, the American Red Cross, Army Emergency Relief Fund, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Air Force Aid Society and Operation Home Front. This is in addition to the many food-banks, family support group organizations and other church, synagogue and charity organizations in these communities.
Fires Impacting Logistics
Both USAA and Armed Forces Bank of America, another company that provides insurance, banking and financial services to military families, also have significant operations in Colorado Springs, which has been affected by this week’s wildfires. USAA actually opened a large service center in Colorado Springs as recently as 2010. These companies are still providing services even though many of their own employees have been forced to evacuate from their homes. AFSA is reporting that their call center has been affected as some workers have been unable to report to work. You may be experiencing longer wait times on the phone than usual.
Thirty days of leave per year: sounds great in comparison to the civilian world of two weeks.
However, it doesn’t take into account two things:
- This includes sick pay, and
- You’re usually stationed far away from your family.
I don’t know about you, but although it’s great to visit back home, running around to see everyone you possibly can does not a vacation make.
On top of it all, vacations are expensive. With approximately 26% of all military spouses unemployed, not counting the large percentage that are underemployed, cost is even more of a factor than for civilians. So what’s a family to do? Take advantage of the military resorts.
Sponsored by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division of the U.S. Army, the four Armed Forces Recreation Centers are set in the United States (2), Germany (1), and South Korea (1). The U.S. Naval Joint Services Activities sponsors one in Japan. All five locations are much less expensive than the stereotypical resort/hotel but don’t skimp whatsoever on the amenities. In order to provide vacation opportunities across the entire military, room rates are adjusted by rank; an E-3 will pay much less than an O-3 for the same room.
Florida — Shades of Green supplies golf, swimming, and restaurants under the Orlando, Florida sunshine. The resort sells a variety of amusement park tickets at a discount (Walt Disney World Resorts, Universal Studios and Sea World are just a few), saving you even more money! A complementary shuttle takes you to any of the Walt Disney World Parks. Military rates are available at the two golf courses that surround the resort. Summer 2012 rates start at $95. Hello Mickey!
Hawaii — The Hale Koa Hotel on the beach at Waikiki can’t be beat. Hawaii has an excellent transportation system known as TheBus, which you can hop on right outside of the hotel and explore the rest of the island of O’ahu. Relax on the beach, take surfing lessons, or eat traditional Hawaiian food at the daily luau! Summer 2012 rates start at $91. Toes in sand, frilly umbrella-laden drink in hand…
Japan — The New Sanno Hotel offers restaurants, shops, a pool, hot tub, and sauna smack dab in the middle of downtown Tokyo for very reasonable rates; even more a bonus since Tokyo is the most expensive city in the entire world! It is minutes away from Tokyo’s extensive subway system, linking you to a multitude of cultural and tourist attractions. Summer 2012 rates start at $50. Banzai!
Germany — The Edelweiss Lodge and Resort provides in house luxuries such as a spa, salon, pool, hot tub, and multiple restaurants. Located in the Bavarian Alps of southern Germany, sports opportunities abound; skiing, hiking, and kayaking are just a few to get you started. Those who are more interested in “roughing it” can camp in cabins or pitch a tent. Being so centrally located, the Lodge provides guided tours of not just places of interest in Germany but also Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. Summer 2012 rates start at $86. Sehr gut!
South Korea — Sightseeing in Seoul (South Korea’s capital) is a breeze when you stay at the Dragon Hill Lodge. Centrally located, the hotel helps you discover South Korea in all its aspects. Go on a food stall tour; visit the Demilitarized Zone; participate in the Boryeong Mud Festival and fling dirt like a local! When you’re done for the day, take advantage of the pool, hot tub, and fitness center. Summer 2012 rates begin at $64. Yeo-haeng jal da-neo-o-se-yo!
All five resorts occasionally offer specials and packages; sign up to be notified and updated by email. Many local merchants and restaurants, dependent on the military dollar and word-of-mouth referral, will offer a discount if you ask; speak up and take advantage of it! You’ve worked hard protecting our country and/or keeping the home fire lit for your military spouse; relax and enjoy the vacation you have earned and deserved, while saving money at the same time.
After much hosanna, hurrah and hullaballoo, the Department of Defense rollout of the Roth option to the Thrift Savings Plan is finally underway. While most of the federal government was eligible to contribute to the TSP via a Roth option in May, technical issues with Defense Finance and Accounting Service computer systems required the Department of Defense to phase in the execution of the rollout among the various services. The Marine Corps – the smallest of the services – is first in line: Marines are eligible to contribute to a Roth option in their TSPs this month. DoD civilian employees are slated to become eligible in July. And Army, Navy and Air Force personnel can elect to make Roth contributions in October, under current projections.
Yes, we also noticed that the DoD civilians in charge of the rollout took care of their own before implementing the Army, Navy and Air Force rollouts (while keeping the Marines as guinea pigs, in case something goes wrong!).
TSP contributions under Roth accounts are taxed differently than traditional TSP accounts. Until now, when you made a contribution to your Thrift Savings Plan, the government made that contribution before taking taxes out of your military pay. You only paid income taxes on the amount left over after your contribution. DFAS would withhold the income tax, together with FICA, or Social Security and Medicare taxes, and pay you the rest. The catch: You have to pay income tax on any amount you withdraw for income.
You can’t postpone paying taxes indefinitely, either. TSP rules require you to begin making required minimum distributions, or RMDs, beginning April 1 of the year after the year in which you turn 70½, or you separate from government service – whichever is later. This means you have to start taking money out of the account – and paying taxes. The IRS imposes stiff tax penalties, if you fail to do so.
With a Roth TSP, you pay your income taxes now, up front. In return, the entire amount grows tax-free. You never have to pay income taxes again, under current tax law. There are no RMDs to worry about, either.
Are They Right for Me?
All things being equal, the Roth option may be better than the traditional TSP under the following circumstances:
- You believe income tax rates will be higher in the future than they are now.
- You believe you will be in a higher tax bracket than you are now.
- You are unlikely to need to withdraw the money in retirement, and can therefore hold on to assets in your TSP well beyond the age at which you would otherwise have to begin taking RMDs.
- You believe you will have a possible estate tax liability. Any income tax you get out of the way now reduces your estate, and potentially reduces the amount exposed to the estate tax.
- You just don’t want to have to worry about RMDs.
- You want to hedge your exposure to legislative risk by splitting assets into different “buckets.”
- You have an artificially-reduced taxable income this year or next year due to a deployment to a combat zone (resulting in much of your military pay for the year being tax-free.
- You can ‘max out’ your elective deferral limit of $17,000, plus, if you are over 50, an additional “catch-up” contribution of $5,500. If you can pay your income taxes now, you can stuff that much more into the account. This is because a Roth TSP is “larger” than a traditional TSP with the same nominal balance. Roth TSPs can be tapped tax-free in retirement; you still have to pay taxes on any balances in a traditional TSP.
- You are confident you can leave the money in the account for at least five years. Only money that remains in the Roth account for at least five years qualifies for the Roth tax treatment.
Remember: If you retire from the military, your pension income is subject to whatever income tax rates are in effect when you retire and begin receiving your retirement pay. Because you incur substantial risk to your income if Congress raises income tax rates between now and the time you retire, you could wind up with a substantial hit to your income. Diversifying part of your retirement nest egg into an income tax-free account, such as a Roth, can help diversify against that risk.
The current prosecution of COL James Johnson on a variety of charges, including fraud, bigamy and conduct unbecoming an officer is highlighting problems with the way the government dispenses justice to career military officers and NCOs convicted of wrong doing.
First, an overview of the case: COL Johnson was well on his way up the stairway to the stars. He received command of the prestigious 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy – long considered the plum assignment for combat arms officers headed for flag rank. But in March of 2011, he was relieved of command, after evidence surfaced that he had committed a series of crimes. Among the allegations:
- COL Johnson, who was married at the time, had arranged government travel, worth tens of thousands of dollars, to facilitate meeting an Iraqi mistress in the Netherlands.
- He provided a government cell phone to his mistress and her family, which racked up $80,000 in usage charges.
- Improperly steering a lucrative military contract to his mistress’s father, hiring him as a “cultural advisor.”
- Falsifying at least 18 travel vouchers, and receiving payment for them.
- “Marrying” his Iraqi mistress while he was still married to his spouse, Kris Johnson.
- Forging a government document (1 count).
- Four specifications of adultery – a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Six specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer.
Johnson pled guilty to 15 out of a total of 27 counts. A number of other counts were thrown out yesterday, leaving only two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for the jury of five colonels to consider.
If convicted, Johnson could face up to 54 years in jail. He could also be stripped of his retirement benefits – and therein lies the rub: The government cannot strip COL Johnson of his retirement pay without also stripping his wife, Kris Johnson – who by all accounts is blameless, of her share of Johnson’s military pension.
Normally, even if a military couple divorces, the spouse is entitled to half of the servicemember’s retirement pay in recognition of 20+ years of service and sacrifice (subject to some caveats under individual state law). Indeed, military spouses do forgo untold professional and educational opportunities while they engage in repeated PCS moves with their sponsors – and unemployment among military spouses is over 3 times the national average, at 26 percent.
Further, to underscore the sacrifice involved, many of those military spouses who are working are working lower-wage jobs than they may otherwise be earning had they not become members of the military family.
The problem: Kris Johnson, who has committed no wrong and has been cooperative with the investigation, faces the loss of over a million dollars in pension benefits, if her husband loses his military retirement pay.
This is a problem, because it creates a powerful disincentive for military spouses to report wrongdoing. The current whistleblower protections normally afforded to employees do not apply to them. Any spouse who becomes aware that her husband (or his wife) is committing serious official misconduct, and reports it, must face the prospect of becoming impoverished in her golden years, if the retirement benefit is stripped away.
“I know spouses are told, if they know their husbands are having an affair, ‘Just keep your mouth shut,’” Kris Johnson said, according to the Fay Observer. “If he gets thrown out or dismissed, he’ll lose his retirement. Let him quietly retire so you can get your half.’ That’s tolerating unethical behavior,” she said.
The Department of Defense should create a process whereby innocent spouses receive some protection against having their economic futures devastated by the loss of this pension benefit, through no fault of their own. It is doubly important to provide this protection to military spouses who blow the whistle on official misconduct, allowing the military to purge corrupt leaders from its ranks (and make room for better leadership in these senior billets.)
There are a number of parallels in the civilian world:
First, the Internal Revenue Service does make allowances for innocent spouses, and provides for relief from penalties for unpaid taxes and unfiled returns where the evidence indicates that the spouse committed no wrongdoing or was herself deceived.
Second, pensions in the private sector are generally exempt against civil judgments and bankruptcies. While you might get sued and lose, resulting in a judgment against you for, say, $1 million, no creditor can go to your employer’s pension fund or 401(k) and force that fund to release a lump sum. They may get a charging order against the income from that pension that accrues to you, but they would have no claim against an innocent spouse.
There are a lot of military spouses watching this case closely. If Kris Johnson is hung out to dry, the government should not expect much in the way of cooperation from them in other cases, going forward. The incentives for military spouses will overwhelmingly be to look the other way and keep their mouths shut.
The Justice system may yet strip Mrs. Johnson of her retirement benefits. But since she is blameless in the whole affair, that would not be justice, by any standard.
What do you think a military spouse should do in this situation? Tell us in the comments.
Got some leave saved up? Got a hankering for travel? This year is possibly the best year ever for military families to explore the beauty of our National Park System.
Normally, a year-long family pass would cost at least $80. But under an intiative announced by the National Park Service in May, the Department is granting access to any of America’s 58 national parks for free to military members and their dependents until May 16, 2014.
How It Works
The National Park Service sells an annual pass, the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass, for $80. The passes allow the holder and a carload of passengers to pass through to any of the $2,000 sites that charge on a per-vehicle basis. If you go to a park or site that charges per person, the pass allows the servicemember in with three other adults age 16 or over.
Spouse deployed, or otherwise unavailable? Good news: The servicemember sponsor doesn’t have to be present. The program is available to military spouses traveling separately. The program applies to “activated” members of the Guard and Reserves. However, you can’t get in under this particular program as a retiree or veteran. These groups have other opportunities for free or reduced admission, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, who sites the National Park System’s Access Pass, a free lifetime pass for disabled citizens or U.S. residents. There are also special programs for seniors age 62 and over.
How To Get the Passes
Just show up. With your military ID of course, and IDs for all your dependents, in case you get separated. You can obtain the pass at any National Park Service attraction that charges a fee for entry. The passes will be accepted by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and at U.S. Army Corps sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.
In a press conference at the Yorktown Battlefield National Park, the site of the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, Jarvis delineated a deep tradition, connecting military veterans and families and the National Parks. The Park Service preserves and protects a number of historic battlefields, including Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Jarvis mentioned that many parks were closed to all but active duty military during World War Two, and that the parks underwent extensive upgrades and investments in order to prepare for a flood of returning service members and their families when the war came to an end.
The parks themselves are located throughout the United States, and there are even national parks in American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. The Dry Tortugas Park, home of Fort Jefferson, the country’s largest masonry structure, is located off the Florida Keys. Don’t try to drive there: It’s accessible only by boat or plane.